Chapter 16: Work of Commission During Construction of Subway

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Rapid Transit in New York City and in the Other Great Cities · Chamber of Commerce, 1906

The work of the Commission, while the construction of Contract No. 1 was going forward, was of the greatest importance to the future development of the "Greater City." The most essential part of the work was the provision for additional rapid transit facilities covering all the boroughs of Greater New York, and the consideration of franchises to foreign corporations desirous of gaining entrance to the city.

Powers of the Commission Extended. The original Act of 1894 was passed before the consolidation, and provided for the construction of a rapid transit railroad only within the city of New York. It was, therefore, doubtful whether the Board had power to establish a route and general plan for the construction, at the expense of the city, of roads extending into boroughs other than Manhattan and the Bronx. In order to resolve this question, a bill was introduced in the Legislature to extend the powers of the Rapid Transit Commission into all parts of Greater New York. This became a law April 23, 1900.

Before the end of 1901 the Board had shown its intention to extend the rapid transit system to all the boroughs of the city as soon as the financial condition would allow; and in particular to Brooklyn, which was second only to Manhattan in population and importance.

Policy of Board. The policy of the Board cannot be better expressed than in the following extract from its report for the year 1902:

"Early in 1902 the Board was called upon to defend the essential proposition upon which it had been constituted. This was that the use of the underground and overhead portions of the streets of New York for railroad purposes should proceed according to a harmonious and far-seeing plan, possible only if all such uses, and every such use, of the streets were to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Rapid Transit Board, or of some other single authority of a similar kind, which should represent the interests of the entire city, and be so organized as to be able to carry out consistently and efficiently a plan requiring years, and perhaps many years, for completion. The establishment of this view followed the discussion over the so-called 'Pennsylvania Railroad Bill.'"

"The vindication which was then accorded to the position of the Board, the creation, with an overwhelming approval of public sentiment, of the Pennsylvania Terminal franchise, the very advantageous terms of the Brooklyn-Manhattan contract, the authorization by the Board of additional tunnel connection with Jersey City, and, finally, the order of the Board that a plan be prepared for a great and systematic extension of rapid transit facilities in the Boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, all these were normal fruit of the rapid transit agitation which brought this Board into being in 1894, and of the program to which the Board since that time, in season and out of season, and often under circumstances of extreme adversity, has at all times deemed itself committed. The Board had never lost faith that, if the citizens and the public authorities of the city would support it in its program, its practical results would be as large and comprehensively beneficial as those now well in sight."

Rapid Transit System For Entire City. "The whole scheme of the Brooklyn extension, for which the contract was awarded in 1902, well illustrates the idea of a unified system of rapid transit for the whole city. But the Board does not for a moment assent to the proposition that the city, in order to secure such utility, is shut up to a contract with any one contractor. The opportunities for municipal rapid transit still remaining; are such that in case lessees of the Manhattan-Bronx rapid transit railroad shall not find it to their interest, or for any reason shall fail, to propose to the city suitable terms for their undertaking such extensions, the city can still build other and through lines and award them to other lessees. The policy and intention of the Board are, to the very utmost that is practicable, to require every contractor for the construction and operation of a municipal railroad to stipulate to make fair operating arrangements upon the basis of a single fare for a single trip over any or all other municipally constructed railroads."

"The Board feels further bound to point out that, in the future, the terms of municipal rapid transit contracts can be had, and, therefore, ought to be, more favorable to the city than was the Manhattan-Bronx contract. That contract was made at a time when there was a widespread belief among railroad and financial people that it would be a business and financial failure, and when it was with the utmost difficulty and after very considerable delay that the city was able to obtain a contractor, and then only after the principal railroad proprietors in the city had refused to take up the enterprise. The remarkably favorable character of the bid for the Brooklyn-Manhattan extension (being for one-fourth or fifth part of its estimated cost) demonstrated beyond peradventure the very great value of the leases of its municipally constructed railroads which the city would be able to offer."

Act Change To Cover Foreign Roads. One of the most important achievements of the Commission during the year 1902 was a change effected in the Rapid Transit Act, Section 32. This amendment was made necessary by the application of the Pennsylvania Railroad, through a subsidiary company known as the Pennsylvania, New York & Long Island Railroad Company, for the right to construct a railroad beneath the Hudson River, Borough of Manhattan, the East River and a portion of the Borough of Queens, with a large terminal station to be located in the Borough of Manhattan. The original Act made no provision for the granting of franchises to existing railroads desirous of entering the city. As amended the Act empowered the Board to grant a franchise to "any railroad corporation owning or actually operating a railroad wholly or in part within the limits of the city in which the said Board has power to act; or of any railroad corporation now or hereafter incorporated, and for the purpose so declared in its articles of association, of constructing and operating a tunnel railroad or railroads in the said city to be connected with any railroad or railroads within the State of New York, or any adjoining State, and thereby forming a continuous line for the carriage of passengers and property between a point or points within and a point or points without the said city."* [* In the chapter on "Tunnels" will be found the terms of the grants to the Pennsylvania, New York & Long Island Railroad Company, New York & Jersey Railroad Company, and the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Company.]

Of still more importance than the granting of these franchises was the work done toward the general scheme, for the future of municipal and other rapid transit for the Boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. The consideration of this question will be found in a following chapter.

Route To Brooklyn. The routes and general plan of the Brooklyn-Manhattan extension were taken up in 1900 immediately after the contract had been awarded for the Manhattan-Bronx railroad. They were approved by the Board January 24, 19O1; by the Board of Aldermen May 21, and by the Mayor on June 1 of the same year. As the consent of a sufficient number of abutting property owners could not be secured, application for approval was made to the Supreme Court. The report of the commissioners appointed by the court was confirmed January 17, 1902.

Needs of Brooklyn. In preparing the form of the Brooklyn-Manhattan contract the Board was impressed with the idea that the public service required it to secure, if possible, not only transportation over the Brooklyn-Manhattan railroad for the fare paid, but also to provide, without additional fare, the most extensive systems of connections. In providing for transfers, it was necessary to consider the relative merits, on the one hand, of extensive connections in the Borough of Brooklyn, and, on the other hand, of an extensive system of connections in the Borough of Manhattan. It was clear that the convenience of the Brooklyn traveling public was first to be considered; since the extension would be used by residents of Brooklyn to a vastly greater extent than by residents of the Borough of Manhattan. Nevertheless, it might be open to doubt whether the convenience of Brooklyn would be better promoted by additional convenience of distribution of Brooklyn travelers over the Borough of Manhattan, or of additional convenience of access to the Brooklyn terminus of the road, with less convenience of distribution in the Borough of Manhattan. The committee of the Board, entrusted with the preparation of the draft of the contract, dealt with this question by making the extent of the connections one element of the bid.

A committee composed of Alexander E. Orr and Charles Stewart Smith was appointed to prepare a draft of the contract. In general the contract followed the form of the first one, but some of the provisions were more favorable to the city. The most important difference was the duration of the franchise, the time, before renewal, being reduced from fifty to thirty-five years. The renewal is to be for twenty-five years. Other conditions to be stipulated are as follows:

Conditions of Contract No. 2. The contractor must agree to construct the road, to provide the equipment and to operate it for thirty-five years. He must stipulate for connections with other rapid transit or surface lines in order to furnish continuous trips for a single fare not exceeding five cents. He must furnish $1,000,000 in cash, or securities such as savings banks are allowed to invest in, as security for the construction and equipment of the road. He must give a bond in a like amount to insure the payment of rental and the performance of every other obligation under the contract. All bonds given by sub-contractors must be deposited with the Board as additional security. After the construction of the road. the city is to hold, as further security for the payment of the rent, a first lien upon the equipment.

The city, on the other hand, is to guarantee to the contractor authority to construct and operate the road "free from all right, claim, or other interference, whether by injunction, suit for damages, or otherwise, on the part of any abutting owner or other person."

The contractor is exempted from taxation under the laws of New York "in respect to its interest in the railroad under the contract, and in respect to the rolling stock and all other equipment of the railroad, except that real estate for power houses, or otherwise forming part of the equipment, shall not be exempted, and that no property of the contractor not provided under and remaining subject to the contract by the city shall be exempted."

The contract contained the eight-hour provision with respect to laborers, workmen, and mechanics. The bid must include $1,000,000 for terminals, and for real estate otherwise required for the operation of the railroad.

The rental was to be the amount of interest the city must pay upon the bonds issued to provide the cost of construction, and a further sum of not less than one per cent. upon the bonds. The contractor must also pay rental upon the amount paid by the city to acquire rights of way, even when not acquired in fee.

Station Advertisements. No advertisements to be displayed at the stations without special permission of the Board. The speed to be not less than 14 miles per hour, including stops.

The contractor may use the railroad for freight or express matter, provided such use does not interfere with right passenger service.

The report of the committee concludes as follows:

Contractor Fairly Dealt With. "The committee desires to remind the Board that although its success with the Manhattan-Bronx contract has made rapid transit prospects far better than they were, nevertheless it is the true interest of the city, not only to secure the lowest possible bid, but to establish the reputation of the city for wise and fair dealing upon the highest possible plane. The contractor should be treated with such scrupulous fairness that the city shall secure the very best and most loyal service, and that, whenever in the future the city has a contract to award for a municipal rapid transit railroad, it shall have a choice from the very best and most competent contractors. The committee has, in this view, followed the general provisions of the Manhattan-Bronx contract, according to the contractor, in precise and intelligible form, proper and efficient protection of his rights, as well as securing to the city full protection of municipal rights, and as far as reasonable protecting the contractor from caprice or uncertainty in the interpretation of his contract obligation. The committee is clear that, whatever may be the rule or the interest of the city with respect to other contracts, this is the only true theory with respect to a rapid transit contract."

Route. The road is to extend from the junction of Park row and Broadway under Broadway, Bowling Green, Battery place, State street and Battery Park, with a loop under Battery Park and Whitehall street. From there it is to pass under the East River to Furman street, Brooklyn, and thence under Joralemon and Fulton streets and Flatbush avenue to the junction of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues. The entire line is to be underground. At the Battery the Brooklyn line passes under the Manhattan line so as to avoid a grade crossing.

Bids Received. Three bids were received on July 21, 1902.

One was from the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, in the name of John L. Wells, an attorney of that company. This offered to do the work for $7,000,000 for construction and $1,000,000 for terminals.

The other two bids were by the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Company, one for $3,000,000 for construction and $1,000,000 for terminals, the other for $2,000,000 for construction and $1,000,000 for terminals. It will be recalled that this company was engaged, with John B. McDonald, in the construction of the Manhattan-Bronx line. Both these bids presented the following system of connecting service and transfer:

Transfers. Connecting lines over which the contractor will assure to any passenger a continuous trip for a single fare not exceeding five cents without change of cars: The lines operated or to be operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, in the Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx as now authorized, excepting in the case where the contractor shall have entered into an agreement with a connecting line to carry a passenger for less than five cents, the Interborough Company will not agree in such case to carry such passenger beyond Fifty-ninth street for the less fare.

The two bids were identical in all respects except amount, and the larger was accompanied by a letter from Mr. McDonald stating that if the Board accepted that bid he would agree to construct an extension of the Manhattan-Bronx system from Forty-second street on Broadway south to Union Square for $100,0000, provided the contract was awarded to him before July 1, 1903. The Board accepted the lowest bid, and the contract was executed September 11, 1902. Construction was begun November 8, following.

Advantages of Bid Accepted. The Board was of the opinion that two most important advantages would accrue to the city as the result of this contract. "The estimated cost of construction of the proposed road is from $8,000,000 to $10,000,000. By obtaining a responsible company, willing to use in large part its own money, so that it could build the road for only $2,000,000 of the city's funds, the city was saved the necessity of issuing $6,000,000 or more of bonds. Again, by awarding the contract to a company that could and did deliver, in accordance with the terms of its bid, a contract for connections and through service with the Manhattan-Bronx railroad, it was assured that these two roads would always be maintained and operated as parts of one great system. By that auxiliary contract the question of a single fare was solved as to both of the municipal railroads. One fare of five cents will carry a passenger to all parts of the Brooklyn-Manhattan and Manhattan-Bronx systems."

About the middle of 1903 the Interborough Rapid Transit Company informed the Board that it had made arrangements with the company operating the Fort Lee Ferry by which passengers could be carried over the rapid transit railroad and the ferry for a single fare of five cents, provided an elevated road could be built to connect the rapid transit viaduct with the ferry. The advantages of this proposition were so obvious that the Board readily agreed to the extension.

Moving Platforms. For several years the Board had under consideration the moving platform question. Early in 1903 the proposition came up for building one to run over the west end of the Williamsburg Bridge, along Grand, Center, and William streets to Wall, and then by some suitable connection to Hanover Square or Bowling Green. The device proposed was similar to that installed in Paris in 1900 and in Chicago in 1893. It consisted of moving platforms running parallel to each other but at different speeds, so that passengers could step from a stationary platform to a moving platform, and from that to another platform moving at a higher speed. A committee appointed by the Board was favorable to the plan in general, but it was thought best to consider several details in reference to the route in Manhattan so that it would not conflict with proposed or possible rapid transit railroads. In the year following, the matter was again brought to the attention of the Board, with reference to a crosstown line to be built along Thirty-fourth street. The Board expressed the opinion that the value of such a line, if the system was practicable upon a large scale, could hardly be a matter of doubt.

During the year the Board received application from the New York Connecting Railroad for a grant to connect its lines in Brooklyn with those of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in the Bronx, passing through the Borough of Queens and across Ward's Island and Randall's Island. This franchise was transmitted to the Board of Aldermen June 27, 1904, but was not approved by that body.

Equipment. Before the opening of the Subway (now known as Contract No. 1) the Board caused careful investigation to be made regarding the rolling stock and equipment that the Rapid Transit Company had contracted to furnish, with a view to determine whether the safety of passengers was properly provided for. Reports showed that the rolling stock represented the best state of the art of car construction; but it was thought that cars constructed entirely of metal were needed in order to eliminate dangers from fire. The experiments instituted by the Interborough Company in the construction of metal cars were successful, and many of these cars are now in use. The intention is to substitute metal cars as soon as they can be completed and put in service. The subway will then be equipped with a much better type of rolling stock than any other similar railway in the world. Careful attention was also given to the system of signals and method of protecting the third rail. A more extended consideration of these features will be found in the chapter on "Equipment."

Rental to be Paid. The first contract provided for the division of the road into four sections, and that the payment of rental should begin, in respect to each, as soon as it was completed and ready for operation. These sections did not, however, agree with the portions of the road as they were successively put in operation. It therefore became necessary to adjust the questions of the method of computing rental in respect to the successive parts of the road as they were opened. On November 3, 1904, a supplemental agreement was made by the contractor and his sureties, which provided that the agreed percentage to be paid by the lessee should be calculated upon such proportion of the total cost of each section as the number of feet of single track in the part ready for operation should bear to the total number of feet of single track in the section.

Cash Security Returned. In accordance with the contract, the contractor had deposited with the Comptroller $1,000,000 in cash as security for construction. When the time approached for the opening of the road, he represented to the Board the hardship of retaining so large a sum to secure the completion of work which was very nearly finished. The Board returned the amount upon the condition that the securities upon the bonds for $5,000,000, including the Interborough Company, would agree that their responsibility extended to include any liability that would have been covered by the cash deposits if they had not been refunded.

The contract for the present subway contained the following clause: "The contractor shall not permit advertisements in the stations or cars that shall interfere with easy identification of stations or otherwise with efficient operation."

In regard to this the Board said: "This clause was inserted in the form of contract prepared by the Board because it was believed to be the part of wisdom to offer all possible inducements to bidders to undertake the novel and hazardous work of building the railway proposed. It was thought that although it was extremely desirable to prohibit the use of advertisements in the stations, yet this consideration must give way to the more important consideration of securing a contractor. Every previous effort of the city had failed, and it was known that the largest railroad interests in the city did not believe in the feasibility of the plans of the Board."

Advertising Signs. "Shortly after the railway was put in operation large advertisements, in some cases coming down to the floor, were affixed to the walls of the stations by the firm of Ward & Gow, acting under an arrangement made between them and the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, the terms of which the latter have declined to communicate to the Board. These advertisements were of strong colors, and if brought in close contact with the name tablets in the stations, were thought to be likely to obscure them or confuse the eyes of the passengers."

In reporting upon this subject the chief engineer of the Board said: "From a study of the operation of the road since its opening it is apparent that it is very much more difficult for passengers on the trains to locate the stations in the subway than it is on the elevated railroads, where passengers can recognize the locality from the surrounding buildings. Between the stations in the subway there is nothing to warn the eye of the passenger what point he is approaching. Except for some peculiarities in the shape or color of stations which are not very apparent to unobservant or preoccupied people, the names on the station walls are the only means of identification. It is therefore most essential for the easy identification of stations that their names should be clearly visible."

The counsel of the Board said that the full duty of the Board would be performed if it took pains to see that the advertisements did not in fact "interfere with easy identification of stations, or otherwise with efficient operation," leaving it to the lessee to defend itself in court against any attack that might be made.

Entrances Through Private Property. Arrangements were made by the Board for the acquisition of rights of way for station entrances at Astor place, Grand Central, and Forty-second street and Broadway. At the latter station, "Times Square," the owners of the property agreed to maintain an entrance through their building at all hours of the day and night, and to keep it suitably lighted. The Board therefore authorized the contractor to omit one of the kiosks planned for the corner of the street at that point.

On this general subject the Board said: "At certain other points entrances to private property have been under discussion, and it is the desire of the Board, so far as possible, to, do away in present and future subways with entrances that occupy the public streets. On April 14, 1904, the Board adopted a resolution that it would consent that entrances to stations from private property should be given free of charge where, in the opinion of the Board, such an entrance would be for the benefit of the traveling public and would not be for other reasons objectionable, provided that in all cases the expense connected therewith should be borne by the applicants, and provided further that such permit should be revocable by the Board or other legal authority acting in its stead for the city of New York."

In the foregoing we have only briefly mentioned some of the most important acts of the Rapid Transit Commission from the date of the letting of the contract up to the present. After ten years of hard, incessant toil the Board was now to see the completion of the first portion of its task.

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